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Sustenance of Watermills in Uttarakhand


Author: Prasoom Dwivedi

Energy Review, Vol 4. Issue 8. 2022

India is a country with gifted diversity, both in terms of resources and culture. Abundant rivers, streams, rivulets, and lakes are found in the mountainous regions, ultimately flowing down to meet the water needs of the population residing in the plains. Watermills were a sincere effort towards using natural resources with sustainability; a device that uses flowing or falling water to generate energy for grinding grains. The watermill operator (popularly known as Gharati) stops the water flow through a small wooden gate or manually changes the direction of the water flows to stop the machine. There are 200,000 watermills in India, with 60,000 being in Uttarakhand. These watermills have the potential to generate electricity up to 65000 MW at the rate of 2500 MW/hr that could be monetized at Rs. 1200 million per hour in the northern mountain ranges. Watermills in Uttarakhand have traditionally been used for grinding grain & spices. Dehusking, cotton combing, oil expelling, and generating electricity have been applications in modern times. Electricity-operated grinding mills tend to destroy the nutrition value of the grains because of the large amount of heat generated during the grinding process. However, water mills do not operate with such speed, thus tending to preserve the nutrition of the grains. Thus, it also contributes to environmental sustainability and the good health of the people. There used to be two kinds of operating models of watermills: one, where the owner was a whole-timer. They used to do all the activities from milling to weighing to delivering to the customer, getting the grinding charges in the process (Bhagwati). In the second type, the owner was available on the site only for a certain time. The customer had to do the milling on their own. In this case, grinding charges were given voluntarily. In such cases, the watermills were the responsibility of the community. The villagers helped the owner in building and maintaining the watermills through the setting up of the turbine, maintaining the water channel, and other activities. Thus, traditionally, the watermills were an integral part of the socio-economic-cultural ecosystem of the villages. However, in recent times, the watermills have come to be ignored, and they have started to fall into disuse. The multipurpose use of watermills could not be visualised, possibly, due to the lack of upgraded technology, along with the change in socio-economic conditions in the hills. The watermills have also got stiff competition from diesel and electricity-powered mills. These mills came to be high-speed grinding machines being more conveniently located. Even with modifications in the traditional watermill models, their acceptance has become a challenge, especially in remote areas. Long working hours, low productivity, income, limited market access, damages to the channels due to heavy water flow in the river, and inability to meet the market demand by an individual watermill owner are the challenges to the sustainability of watermills. Despite these challenges, few watermill owners have created a cohesive group known as the ‘chain of watermills owners’ in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. Through this chain, watermill owners grind grains and spices collectively to meet the market demand. This innovation has solved the problem of larger demands for watermills’ products from the market, also creating an opportunity for watermill owners to earn a sustainable income from the process. In addition, the few owners have also developed other value-added activities around the watermills. For example, Grid-connected 5KW Solar Power Plant, Bakery, fisheries, and growing medicinal plants such as turmeric are some of the activities performed by the watermill owners, along with basic grinding operations. Drawing inspiration from similar watermill-based activities, it is proposed that these watermills be seen as a source of recreation, a destination for social and business gatherings, and a tourist destination. In addition to their grinding services, watermills’ products can be branded and introduced on major e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Flipkart. There is a need for a demand-driven, cluster-based approach to sustaining the watermill in the Himalayan region. An ecosystem should be developed to support the watermill owners in sustaining as well as hand-holding them in scaling up their traditional business. Although Central and State governments in India, have facilitated to conserve this traditional knowledge, it is also important to perceive this social asset as a business asset. These proposed ecosystems can facilitate the building of business capabilities of these watermill owners to manage their watermills as a small business enterprise. (Dr. Prasoom Dwivedi is a Professor at the Department of Economics & International Business, School of Business, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES), Dehradun.) ■□■


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